14 August 2013
Dear Victoria Police
I am writing on behalf of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) in relation to the Victoria Police Community Consultation on field contacts and cross-cultural awareness training. We do not propose to make a comprehensive submission but raise a number of key points for your consideration.
We welcome Victoria Police’s engagement with community stakeholders and encourage Victoria to continue to set high standards for its processes which can become best practice models for other police forces around Australia.
1.1About the VGLRL
The VGLRL is a community based lobby group which works towards equality, social justice and human rights for lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual and same sex attracted Victorians. We work with, and for the community, along with non-profit, health and representatives of government agencies (including GLLOs) to create positive change in the area of human rights and policy development. In particular, the VGLRL works consultatively, cooperatively and respectfully transgender, bisexual, intersex and other organisations that support our mission and vision.
1.2Legitimate basis for reasonable suspicion
The Field Contacts Policy in the Victoria Police Manual Procedures and Guidelines (VPM Guidelines) requires a police officer to qualify the reason for a field contact where:
‘a person must have been located / spoken to / sighted in an area with a high incidence of crime which must be justified, or in other circumstances that could be deemed to be suspicious and recording of that person’s presence may be valuable in any future investigation, e.g., an area of ‘gang’activity.’
The VGLRL has received anecdotal evidence of gay, lesbian, queer and bisexual people being approached and spoken to by police officers outside ‘gay bars’, LGBTI community events and at beats.2
The above grounds for “reasonable suspicion” to justify a field contact are broad. The VGLRL is concerned that due to history of criminalisation of homosexual conduct (for which gay sex convictions still remain on criminal records) and the existence of prejudice, some police officers may view people engaging in homosexual social and sexual activity as ‘other circumstances that could be deemed to be suspicious’.
In addition, more disturbingly, there is evidence based on recent media reports that some police officers equate homosexual activity with criminal activity. There is an urgent need for education and training to ensure these discriminatory and stigmatising practices cease.
In response to question 1, the VGLRL submits that ‘homosexual’activity should not constitute grounds for reasonable suspicion to warrant a field contact. We recommend that appropriate amendments be made to VPM Guidelines to ensure that ‘homosexual’activity is not used as a basis for reasonable suspicion for a field contact.
In response to question 2, we consider it desirable that police and PSOs must provide people with a clear reason why they have been stopped to record a field contact.
In response to question 6, the VGLRL recommends that police officers and PSOs be required to issue a receipt with:
a.details of the date, time and location of the field contact;
b.details of the officer involved; and
c.the reason for the field contact report.
This safeguard would promote accountability in ensuring field contacts are only conducted where there is a legitimate reason in compliance with the Field Contacts Policy.
1.3Compliance with Beats Policy
The VGLRL supports the “Policing beat locations”policy (Beats Policy) which encourages police officers to think about warnings, discussions with beat users and the safety of beat users.
However, the VGLRL is concerned that the Beats Policy is not always followed in practice. As recently as earlier this year, there were concerning media reports evidencing the existence of attitudes and practices within Victoria Police in breach of the Beats Policy.
In Geelong in 2006, 40 beat users were stopped and questioned by police during ‘Operation Teras’for being near toilet blocks used as beats, reported as “undercover assaults in the well known sex haunts”.These toilet blocks were then closed. A recent article reports that the City of Greater Geelong Council is looking to introduce a bylaw banning people from “general loitering around toilets”.The police officer’s comments in this recent media report are disturbing, offensive, potentially very harmful and reveal fundamental misunderstandings by the police officer of the Beats Policy.
We recommend that Victoria Police takes effective steps to ensure compliance with the Beats Policy. We also recommend that Victoria Police revise and refresh the Beats Policy in line with best practice. This would include respecting of the rights of all users of the space to privacy and freedom of association and ensuring the safety of all community members, including protections from prejudice motivated crime.
1.4Respectful interaction with LGBTI people during field contacts
We support the VPM Code of Conduct’s requirement that police officers act with professionalism and respect diversity.
However, the current Field Contacts Policy does not regulate or provide for the language used when collecting personal information and data for field contacts. The VGLRL considers that the Field Contacts Policy should guide police officers to use sensitive, correct and respectful language when speaking to people perceived or known to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex.
We recommend that Victoria Police adopt the approach of the Federal Government’s Sex and Gender Recognition Guidelines and LGBTI community specific resources to guide the development of LGBTI inclusive policies and practice. This includes not requesting information regarding a person’s sex or gender unless this information is necessary, for example.
1.5Use of data collected from field contacts
In response to question 3, the VGLRL is concerned that police officers and PSOs may be collecting personal information about sexual activity and/or sexual orientation in field contact reports. Field contacts that include information that suggest a sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS status for a person may have serious implications for their right to privacy if the information is later disclosed. It also has the potential to cause significant distress and anxiety if the individual remains concerned or anxious that the information recorded on the field contact report could be discovered by a friend, partner or relative without their knowledge or consent.
The VGLRL considers that any information about sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status should not be retained or disclosed unless necessary for a legitimate policing reason. For example, where a person’s HIV/AIDS status is disclosed after a car accident, the police should not collect and retain this information unless it was relevant to a criminal offence. The VGLRL is concerned that this information is available on the LEAP database and other police records.
Previous field contact reports stating a person’s sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS status may influence a police officer’s decision about what action to take. For example, if a field contact report - which is not publicly available - states that a person is a ‘known beat user’this may lead the police officer to question the person, even though going to a beat is not a criminal activity (see section 1.7 below on unconscious bias).
In response to question 4, where records of sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS status are collected, we recommend that disaggregated data be made available to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to analyse the incidence of field contacts and report on whether police are engaging in discriminatory policing or profiling in field contact reports.
In response to question 5, we recommend that field contact reports be cleared from the LEAP database 6 months after the report is entered if no charges are laid.
1.6Historical gay sex convictions
It is extremely unfortunate that historical convictions for homosexual offences continue to exist and haunt the livers of many older gay men, despite the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1981. There have been promising signs that political leaders will be taking steps to legislative to remedy this injustice.
In the interim the VGLRL encourages the Victoria Police to continue to work with LGBTI community to work through the logistical and other considerations surrounding moves to expunge these historical records and, in the interim, consider any steps that could be taken by Victoria Police to minimise the negative impacts these convictions have on the lives of older gay men. We welcome engagement and good will demonstrated by Victoria Police to date in assisting Member for Prahran, Clem Newton-Brown MP, and the LGBTI community to deal with this issue.
1.7LGBTI specific training
The VGLRL supports Victoria Police continuing its Community Encounters program and training that ensures all police officers understand and respect sexual and gender diversity.
The VLGRL continues to welcome the involvement of its members and others from within the LGBTI community in the ‘Community Encounters’ training at Victoria Police Academy designed to educate recruits to interact with LGBTI people with respect and in a manner sensitive to their perspectives and needs. The VGLRL is not otherwise aware of the detail of the Victoria Police training on LGBTI issues but would welcome the opportunity to provide more detailed input into any specific modules and, indeed, encourage the development of specific modules and the inclusion of scenarios involving LGBTI people in the training delivered to police officers and PSOs.
While acknowledging that New South Wales is an entirely separate organisation to Victoria Police, we note the response to the video leaked onto YouTube of violence by NSW police officers towards LGBTI community members at Mardi Gras in 2013. This incident highlights the importance of Victoria Police committing to a consultative, “community policing”approach to LGBTI community events. We consider that this is particularly important in training officers to understand the sensitivities involved in dealing with LGBTI people, given past negative experiences with police officers and distrust given the historical involvement in Victoria Police in enforcing homophobic laws.
Despite the “Community Encounters” training, and particularly given the examples cited above, the VGLRL is concerned that there may be situations in which a police officer or PSO conducts a field contact as a result of unconscious bias, not reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Unconscious bias refers to subconscious attitudes, opinions and beliefs that can cause people to assume a person is engaging in ‘suspicious’behaviour. A police officer or PSO may hold unconscious biases even where they consciously denounce all forms of stereotyping and discrimination.
For example, unconscious bias may cause a police officer to conduct a field contact when they see people at beats because of subconsciously held beliefs about public sex or homosexual activity. As another example, unconscious bias may cause a police officer not to investigate an emergency call when they attend a house and find a same-sex couple, because they have an unconscious idea that family violence only occurs in heterosexual relationships. Unconscious bias may also influence police officers’ability to detect and flag hate crime or responses to repeat victims of crime.
We recommend that Victoria Police ensure all police officers and PSOs receive anti-bias training that ensures police officers and PSOs are aware of how unconscious bias operates and can effectively implement this training to ensure that it does not result in discriminatory policing.
In response to question 13, the VGLRL considers that ongoing community engagement is central to maintaining community confidence in policing.
The VGLRL has welcomed the active role of the Victoria Police and the personal support of Chief Commissioner Ken Lay for the LGBTI community, including participation in Pride March and support for the No To Homophobia campaign. These activities are crucial to build and maintain trust and confidence between LGBTI communities and Victoria Police.
The VGLRL considers that it is crucial to strengthen relations between Victoria Police and LGBTI people in the interest of fostering greater trust in police officers and PSOs, and develop police policy practices that are sensitive to and respectful of the particular needs and issues facing LGBTI people and their families. Sergeant Electra Wellens and others within the Community Engagement Team play a crucial role both internally and externally in this regard.
Victoria Police Blue Print
We note with disappointment that the recently published Victoria Police Blue Print removed any reference to GLBTI people but understand that this omission was an administrative oversight and will be rectified as soon as possible by Victoria Police.
GLBTI Reference Group
The GLBTI Reference Group also provides an opportunity raise and address issues in the policing of LGBTI communities that come to the attention of the stakeholder organisations or the Victoria Police. This reference group provides an opportunity for continued dialogue between GLBTI community members and Victoria Police, and should be used to further examine and progress the issues raised in this consultation.
Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officers
The VGLRL also supports the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers who work to increase mutual trust and confidence between Victoria Police and the LGBTI community, monitor homophobic and transphobic hate crime and the incidence of violence in same-sex relationships, provide advice and implement training about LGBTI issues and prejudice motivated crime.
VGLRL recommends that the Victoria Police maintain and strengthen its current community engagement work in relation to the LGBTI community. This includes better resourcing the Community Engagement Team to undertake its important work on LGBTI and human rights issues.
It is important that community consultation does not end after submissions are collected as part of this inquiry and the VGLRL would welcome the opportunity to further contribute to the Victoria Police review of its field contacts policy and cross-cultural training.
Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby
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